|Across the Fence: Tomb of the Unknown|
|November 15, 2012 M. Timothy Nolting|
Edward F. Younger, of Chicago, Illinois was born in 1898. He enlisted in the Army in 1917 and fought valiantly in the trenches where he was twice wounded, decorated, and promoted to the rank of Sargent. He reenlisted in 1919 and served until his honorable discharge in 1922.
October 24, 1921; Sargent Edward F. Younger of the U.S. Army 50th Infantry, stood alone inside the city hall in Chalons-en-Champagne, France. Alone except for the four coffins that sat before him. In his arms he awkwardly cradled an oversized spray of pink and white roses as he slowly walked around the unadorned pine caskets. The hard leather heels of his spit-shined dress shoes snapped loudly on the polished marble floor and echoed through the closed chamber. Above the fragrant blossoms, that he held in the crook of his arm, there dangled from the breast pocket of his uniform the ribboned testament of his valor, the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross.
Reverently he circled the perimeter of the four caskets that stood side-by-side until suddenly stopping at the head of the third coffin. He paused briefly, leaned forward and gently placed the bouquet upon the smooth-grained lid then quickly stood at rigid attention and raised his hand to his brow in solemn salute.
Outside the chamber, Major Harbold, in charge of the burial detail, and the five other pallbearers waited quietly for Sgt. Younger to emerge.
Two days earlier, the bodies of four, unidentified American servicemen had been exhumed from four different American cemeteries on French soil. There was one soldier from each cemetery at Aisne-Maine, Meuse-Argonne, Somme and St. Mihiel. After Sgt. Younger’s selection, only one soldier would represent and honor the 1,237 unidentified U.S. servicemen that had been killed in battle.
However, preparations for this day, and the historic ceremony that would follow had begun eight years earlier when on March 4, 1913 the U.S. Congress passed a bill, introduced by Judge Ivory G. Kimball, to construct the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater. Groundbreaking ceremonies occurred two years later and on October 15, 1915 President Woodrow Wilson placed the cornerstone for the historic structure. Judge Kimball did not live to see the completion of his longstanding dream and died before the memorial was completed, five years later, on May 15, 1920.
In the plaza facing the amphitheater, a white marble tomb was constructed. The marble for this tomb was mined from the Yule Marble Quarry in Marble, Colorado. It was from this quarry that the marble for the Lincoln Memorial was also taken. The original tomb at the Arlington Memorial was only a three level structure. The base containing nine marble blocks and each of the upper two levels containing six blocks each. Rectangular in shape, the tomb is open to the ground below and covered with a stone slab at the top. Inside this structure, the Unknown Soldier would be laid to rest and later, a large marble monument would be placed above.
In March of the following year, 1921, Congress approved the burial of one unidentified U.S. serviceman from WWI to be interred in the marble tomb and the ceremony would be held on the third anniversary of the end of the war to end all wars, Armistice Day, November 11, 1921.
And so, on the 24th day of October, 1921, Sgt. Younger saluted the unknown soldier that lay in the rose covered casket before him, executed a precise about face and exited the chamber where the body would briefly lay in state. The three unidentified service men that were not selected were reinterred in the Meuse Argonne Cemetery in France.
For several hours, French and American dignitaries and citizens of the City of Chalons paid tribute to the unknown American soldier. The French awarded military honors of their county and the long lines of citizens who filed past heaped mountains of flowers on the simple casket until Sgt. Younger and the other five pallbearers lifted the casket and carried it to a waiting, flag draped gun carriage. Escorted by French and American soldiers, the carriage was drawn to the local train station where the casket was placed aboard a special funeral train that would take it to the port city of LeHavre. From there, the honored unknown would be carried to his homeland aboard the USS Olympia. As the Olympia left the pier, a French Navy destroyer fired a thunderous seventeen-gun salute to which the Olympia responded in kind.
In the mid-afternoon of November 9th, the USS Olympia reached the Navy Yard at Washington DC. The body of the unknown was delivered to the Commanding Officers of the Army and a solemn procession of Army, Navy and Marines escorted the body to the Capitol Rotunda. Laid in State, where Generals and Presidents had lain before, the Unknown Soldier was paid tribute by high-ranking dignitaries, government officials, military leaders and citizens from all walks of life. For all of the following day, the line of people passed by the flag draped casket of an American hero with no name.
Here, I will quote from The Quartermaster Review of September-October 1963; a publication of the US Army Quartermaster Foundation of Fort Lee, Virginia. “On the morning of November 11, 1921, Armistice Day, at 8:30 A.M., the casket was removed from the rotunda of the Capitol and escorted to the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery under a military escort, with general officers of the Army and Admirals of the Navy for pallbearers, and noncommissioned officers of the Navy and Marine Corps for body bearers. Following the caisson bearing the flag-draped casket walked such a concourse as had never before followed a soldier to his final resting place-The President of the United States, the Vice-President, Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, wearers of the Congressional Medal of Honor, Senators, Members of Congress, the Generals of the Armies of World War I, and former Wars, and other distinguished Army, Navy and Marine Corps officers, Veterans of World War I, and former Wars, State officials and representatives of patriotic organizations. Solemnly through streets lined with thousands gathered to pay homage to those who died on the field of battle the procession moved on to historic Arlington. Upon arrival at the Amphitheater the casket was borne through the south entrance to the apse where it was reverently placed upon the catafalque. During the processional the vast audience both within and without the Amphitheater stood uncovered. A simple but impressive funeral ceremony was conducted which included an address by the President of the United States who conferred upon the Unknown Soldier the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross. Following this ceremony, special representatives of foreign governments associated with the United States in World War I each in turn conferred upon the Unknown the highest military decoration of their Nation.”
At the end of the ceremony, the body of the Unknown Soldier was placed within the tomb, where a two-inch layer of French soil had been placed as a memorial to the land on which he had fought and died, and the tomb was closed. A twenty-one-gun salute shattered the reverent silence and the mournful, peal of the buglers ‘Taps’ gripped the throats of stalwart men and caused salty tears to coarse down the cheeks of battle-hardened veterans.
In 1926, Congress authorized the completion of the tomb at a cost of $50,000 and in January of 1931 a 124-ton block of marble was finally cut from the Yule Marble Quarry to complete the monument that would top the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Seventy-five men had worked for over a year to cut the giant block and haul it to the quarry mill where it was cut down to a hefty 56 tons. In February the ‘die,’ the main body of the monument, was loaded onto a flatbed car on the Crystal River and San Juan Rail Road and freighted to Vermont and on to Washington.
The chiseled inscription on that stone reads, “Here Rests in Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But to God.”
Sgt. Younger, long remembered that day in France when he chose the Unknown Soldier, “…Major Harbold, the officer in charge of grave registrations, told us, ‘One of you men is to be given the honor of selecting the body of the Unknown Soldier.’ He had a large bouquet of pink and white roses in his arms. He finally handed the roses to me. I was left alone in the chapel. There were four coffins, all unnamed and unmarked. The one that I placed the roses on was the one brought home and placed in the national shrine. I walked around the coffins three times, then suddenly I stopped. What caused me to stop, I don’t know. It was as though something had pulled me. I placed the roses on the coffin in front of me. I can still remember the awed feeling that I had, standing there alone.”
NOTE: My apologies to Mrs. Herboldsheimer. Last week I wrote that she remembered her father taking her to the Gunderson mill. Actually, it was Mrs. Herboldsheimer’s mother who told her about remembered trips to the mill. Mrs. Herboldsheimer pointed out my error and remarked, “Good heavens! I’m not that old.”
Editor’s note: M. Timothy Nolting is an award winning Nebraska columnist and freelance writer. To contact Tim, email; email@example.com